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Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

Mark Shields: Bush -- Good cop, bad cop

By Mark Shields
Creators Syndicate

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WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- After watching his party squander its post-November 5 unity in ugly, intramural recriminations provoked by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's, R-Mississippi, fond, on-camera reminiscing about the less-troubled America we would have enjoyed after segregationist Strom Thurmond's 1948 presidential "victory," one veteran Republican on Capitol Hill, long committed to civil rights, admits his discouragement.

Alluding to charges about the GOP's recruiting lawyers and off-duty cops to discourage African-American voter turnout, he confesses: "My party's only strategy for reaching black voters is ... to keep them from voting."

But is that fair? President George W. Bush, burdened by ominous choices about war, does not seek comfort and counsel from old Skull and Bones secret society Yalies.

No, to make these fateful decisions, Bush relies upon National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell, two African-Americans who were born into a segregated America and each a "first" in their position.

Is not the rebuttal to criticism of the GOP's civil rights record under Bush found in the words of Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell, who when questioned on the same subject answered, "Watch what we do, not what we say."

When it involves civil rights, what George W. Bush does and what he says appear to depend almost entirely on whether Bush is in a political campaign or in public office. It might be family tradition: Bush's father, in 1968 as a Republican congressman from Houston, risked his political future by courageously voting for a national open-housing law.

But, 20 years later, as a presidential nominee, he said not a word when his political supporters "independently" aired TV spots tying black rapist-murder Willie Horton to his Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis.

In the 2000 South Carolina presidential primary, Gov. George W. Bush was on the ropes after Arizona Sen. John McCain's upset New Hampshire victory. In a revealing slip of the tongue, Bush told a rally of supporters: "If you're sick and tired of the politics of cynicism, of polls and principles, come and join this campaign."

"This campaign" punched every cultural, religious and racial hot button calculated to sway the state's conservative electorate. Bush had refused to meet with the Log Cabin Republicans, the party's most prominent gay group, explaining -- inaccurately -- that the group had endorsed McCain, who had earlier met with them.

On February 17, Bush was asked on Columbia's WMHK, a Christian radio station, whether he would hire gays. Bush's reply: "An openly known homosexual is somebody who probably won't share my philosophy." This had to surprise gay conservatives who favor tax cuts. But the lines had been drawn. Thousands of South Carolina homes received letters, ostensibly sent from a Baptist church in Kentucky, condemning "John McCain's Fag Army."

Four hundred thousand self-identified religious conservatives were warned through the efforts of Bush backers, televangelist Pat Robertson and his Christian Coalition sidekick, Ralph Reed, that the pro-life McCain intended to drop the pro-life pledge from the GOP platform. Why? Because McCain favored -- as did George W. Bush (which Reed and Robertson chose not to mention) -- an exception for rape or incest.

But the Dixiecrats would have most appreciated Bush's tap-dancing on the racially charged Confederate flag fight. Bush bobbed and weaved, refusing to take any position on any pain the state's flying of the Confederate flag could cause black citizens: "I think the people of South Carolina can figure out what to do with this flag issue. It's the people of South Carolina's decision."

McCain did criticize the racial message sent by the official display of the flag, but he failed to oppose its being flown. Still, the "Keep It Flying" political committee, run by Bush operative Richard Hines, sent out 250,000 messages to flag-friendly voters attacking McCain and endorsing Bush because the Texan was the only candidate who "has refused to call the Confederate flag a racist symbol."

In Georgia in 2002, there was George W. Bush endorsing nominee for governor Sunny Perdue, who won after running as the champion of the Confederate battle flag -- in a GOP campaign led by, that's right, Ralph Reed.

There is no record of Trent Lott in any political struggle ever resorting to the vile and hateful anti-civil-rights tactics of the Bush South Carolina team in 2000. But, of course, all of these acts was were just politics, which is dirty and where anything goes. Government, you must understand -- where Condi Rice and Colin Powell are respected and heeded -- is different.

Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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